Recognise: DJ SWISHA
Part of New York’s thriving underground and the cross-States Juke Bounce Werk crew, DJ SWISHA has established himself as an essential producer and DJ covering footwork, house, jungle and more. Alongside a high-energy mix joining the dots between Jersey and Baltimore club music and techno, he speaks to Tice Cin about friendship, club culture and his mysterious former alias
Born in Philadelphia, raised in LA, and currently based in Brooklyn, DJ SWISHA’s unique and internet-crate-digging sound has created a community around him. He is part of the Juke Bounce Werk crew, signed to Fool’s Gold Records, and his regular Bandcamp self-releases range from battle-ready footwork and hypnotic techno to memeable Jersey club edits of Crazy Frog — all hybrid originals that never compromise on a beat that hits.
One of the earliest welcomes to his music career was a takedown order for his original ‘Swisha Sweet’ website when the Swisher Sweets cigar brand came after him for trademark dilution. Before the legal furore, he had jokingly bought the domain name to sell his graphic designs and music directly online, instead of via a then-slower-moving Bandcamp. An underground rapper had the same name as Swisha too (which he discovered after being cautiously approached by a young rap fan), so he added ‘DJ’, and now he’s DJ SWISHA.
He has a love-hate relationship with the internet. “I grew up in the LA suburbs and was online a lot if it wasn’t for my friends picking me up for these 40-mile bike meet-ups,” he says. He met the closest friends he makes music with through the internet, like the prolific Kush Jones on SoundCloud, and took in a lot of club culture through Vine. A large part of his inspiration process is listening to emerging rappers who make their own beats and record themselves on SoundCloud, which he feels is “booming now more than ever”. But self-preservation online is essential. “Social media can be vision fogging,” he says. “My socials became primarily promotional once I got more followers I didn’t know than those who I knew.” He laughs and shares how his mum, an enterprising stylist, often cajoles him, “‘Why don’t you have more followers, you should buy some, the brands wanna see’!”
For artists like SWISHA with increasing visibility, the club space straddles a fine line between professional and leisure environment. During a recent trip to Mood Ring, a club in Bushwick, strangers pulled him to the side to ask for production advice; “It’s been character shaping, people may not always approach you thoughtfully, you have to protect yourself and be aware in the club.”
A safe space is more than physical safety to SWISHA. “A venue can be safe for affluent people who get food and drinks in Red Hook. But for new demographics of people like myself and my friends, it can be more daunting than an understaffed warehouse.” He leans forwards. “Familiarity makes me feel safer. There needs to be care from venues globally, especially with security knowing who the talent are and what they look like.” He believes stating rules can protect clubbers. “Clubs like Nowadays have you sit in a room while they tell you their safer space policy. You’ll still see someone activated alarmingly by boundaries, which shows the necessity of that vibe check.”
DJ SWISHA’s sound is like a geocaching course filled with intertextual references that display his virtuosic knowledge of music. His collaboration with DIYR, ‘Sittin’ On Chrome’, resamples the chops from Masta Ace Incorporated’s sample of Eazy-E’s ‘Eazy-Duz-It’. On his as-yet untitled EP with AceMo for AceMo’s label Sonic Messengers, tracks like ‘Cowabunga’ are almost odes to the resplendent shredding of boss fights and menu themes on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES.
With footwork, though SWISHA loves to formulate “more aggressive battle tracks”, he has been spending time refining the interplay of moods in his music. His recently released ‘(Respectfully)’ with Kush Jones is a euphonic collaboration that feels like a love letter in your DMs, heartful footwork intersecting with wistful jungle and chunky house. “They’re organic DIY-style collaborations,” he explains. “Everyone convenes at my studio — from a year or two ago of us hanging out and making music.’
Friendship is a core part of DJ SWISHA’s ethos. “I moved to New York to be with friends who were most validating to me — AceMo, Kush Jones, MoMA Ready — it’s a group effort that excels the creative. People love label affiliation and collectives, in our case it’s genuinely four friends doing things together.” Providing a comforting presence alongside this are Juke Bounce Werk; “Having them, it’s like parent vibes, Joey [Jae Drago], Alex [DJ Noir] and Darren [Sonic D]”.
The rest of his process is simple: step away from the computer, come back later to reabsorb. “I’ll ask, what does the song need? When I’m teaching people production, I’ll remind them, push through and finish the song — don’t be a perfectionist. I think about DJing the song and how I’d interact with it in that setting, everything else is secondary and up for interpretation — I’m not thinking about anything but finishing the song.”
Over the years he finished a surplus of songs, “a build up of edits and silly remixes”. He wondered whether, if he released them through an alias, it would affect the way people booked and treated him? So he tested it. “Being anonymous, I had enquiries for interviews. I was lying, saying I worked at random places. I had people theorising about where I was from. I would get booked as DJ SWISHA, and then I’d post on the other account and get booked for the same party.”
He hid his face when he played out, and played alongside artists like LSDXOXO with large platforms. “The experiment was looking at me in the face to the point where it almost felt insulting. The stuff I made under my alias was more of a joke, a kid in my mum’s basement. Whereas, the music I was making as SWISHA had a clear lineage and ethos behind it that I took seriously. I’m now accepted as an outsider in the footwork and club music world. I want footwork to thrive, be respected and documented.”
Championing Black electronic sounds is what SWISHA is all about. “The narrative being that techno and other dance music is Black music is important — there are people who are trying to discourage and invalidate people who are from these cultures.” It’s important to recognise talent, he says, “Max Watts from Tennessee makes influential nu techno, and now he is under the wing of the OGs of OGs, on his own trajectory working with people like Huey Mnemonic. Talent is undeniable when founders of the music are saying ‘You’re the one’.” He advises that in order to avoid sonic appropriation, “we have to protect the founders. People like DJ Stingray who have their claim. They might have the most profitable parts of their career happening now due to that recognition”.
Club music and footwork (especially Chicago footwork) can’t be taken out of their contexts: “The core of it’s dance-driven and community-built music”. DJ SWISHA wants us to “talk to the people who are cultivating spaces and uplifting scenes. The independent label heads. Appreciate people in their time. DJs need to share track IDs too, and direct back towards the communities of music that they play.”
He looks towards DJs like SHERELLE who play across different tempos, and the recent resurgence of jungle amongst teenage fans as invigorating. Beyond more edits, remixes and DJ tools, he wants to “bridge the gap between America’s contemporary rap with electronic music”. Through this, he aspires to work with Jessy Lanza again, “people who are good at translating melodic mental ideas into hardware”, genre-blending Atlanta rapper Bear1Boss, BennY RevivaL, Don Toliver, and Lil Uzi Vert.
To DJ SWISHA, it’s clear that musical growth is found at the limits of experimentation, and he is expanding horizons in electronic music in the way only he can.
Speaking about his Recognise mix, SWISHA says: “My goal for any DJ mix is to showcase the parallels between genres. For this mix I dove into the relationship between Jersey/Baltimore club and techno. I included current favourites, some classics, and unreleased music from myself and some friends!”
Luca Lozano + Mr. Ho ‘Power of Purchase’
Martyn Bootyspoon ‘Eye Dropurrr’
DJ Missdevana ‘Brass’
Lektor Scopes ‘416 (Earth People)’
OSSX ‘DARE EDIT’
INVT ‘EL PREMIO’
Overmono ‘Gunk (DJ SWISHA bootleg)’
Pacou ‘Minifunk (part 3)’
Trax Unit ‘Codex’
DJ SWISHA ‘CLUB MEGAMIXXX’
Flits & Beau Didier ‘Uh Uh’
DJ Sliink ‘6TH Ward Dumaine’
Golden Kong ‘Rave 101’
DJ SWISHA ‘TAPPED IN’
ABE x DJ DIFFICULT x SLICE ‘BEAT IT UP’
Regal86 ‘La Onda’
DJ ADHD & Nikki Hair ‘Where u find this’
DJ Nehpets ‘Oochie Bang’
DJ SWISHA ‘If The Shoe Fits’
Green Velvet ‘Shake and Pop (Gantman remix)’